White Sox seek starters because swingmen swung toward relief

On the heels of Dylan Cease’s surprisingly muted runner-up finish in the American League Cy Young race, Ethan Katz spoke to media. While he offered praise for his star pupil, he also spun the conversation forward with some updates on other pitchers, as well as a prescription for what the front office needs to supply over the winter.

“Obviously, we need another starter,” Katz said. “That right now is our biggest need from the pitching standpoint. We’re having dialogue. We’ll see how things play out, but we do need another starter.”

That need became more apparent after he outlined 2023 plans for three pitchers who are or might’ve been under consideration to make starts.

Michael Kopech

When Michael Kopech soldiered through the final few months of the season without his most powerful stuff due to a knee problem that seemed capable of putting him on the shelf, I didn’t know how to evaluate his final body of work. Did the White Sox take an unnecessary risk by pushing him toward 119 innings, or was it worth conditioning Kopech for such a grind due to all the time he’d missed?

I leaned toward the latter in a vacuum because a pitcher has to pitch, and Kopech’s spent a lot of time not pitching. Yet it’s also foolish to isolate his season from all the other injuries the White Sox mishandled. The only thing separating Kopech’s knee from Luis Robert’s wrist or Leury García’s back was a playable amount of effectiveness. That’s not nothing, but he wasn’t dynamic enough to make it a good idea on its own.

It definitely wasn’t a good idea to have him pitch as long as he did if recovery from postseason surgery interferes with the White Sox’s plans for 2023, and this update introduces a reason for skepticism.

This might be nothing, but the contexts — Kopech’s and the team-wide health issues — warrant regarding it as something until he’s on a regular schedule at Camelback Ranch.

Garrett Crochet

Katz shot down the idea of having Crochet sop up some starts over the course of the 2023 season.

Tommy John surgery slammed shut the only sensible window to try to stretch out Crochet into starting, which merits a shrug if you were skeptical about Crochet’s ability to hang as a starter in the first place.

I always treated his 11th-overall selection during the pandemic-ridden 2020 draft as a quest for the safest pick in highly uncertain times. Crochet needed no formal minor-league experience to give the Sox a useful medium-leverage left-handed reliever, and with the college and amateur seasons halted while the entire minor-league baseball slate was wiped out, there was no clear picture of what the immediate player-development timetable might look like. Maybe the White Sox floated Crochet as a rotation piece when they drafted him, but they also said Nick Madrigal might be able to play shortstop and Zack Collins could really catch.

There are a few players in the next 10 picks (Garrett Mitchell, Jordan Walker) who look poised to surpass Crochet in terms of impact, but there are some swings and misses in that group as well. The White Sox sought a median outcome, and a median outcome they’ll receive.

Reynaldo López

It also appears as though the door has closed on López starting, because after a few years of wandering, López finally found a role that worked for him on a reliable basis.

Although López’s slider has improved, it still isn’t a great pitch. It just stopped being a liability, and probably because his fastball has returned to being an true asset.

Back when López started, his effectiveness hinged on his fastball’s power, and then his ability to locate it when it lost some steam over the course of five innings and beyond. Relieving simplifies his checklist, because now his best pitch is available to him three times as often.

Fastballs 97+
Season97+ mph% of FB
201833410.8
201934610.9
202020.4
20219910.6
2022313**31.8**

The run values on his slider, whether you trust FanGraphs’ version (-1.3) or Statcast’s (0), still suggest that it’s not a standalone pitch, but it’s better than it used to be, and perfectly complementary for a fastball that’s back to a true plus offering.

The 2019 and 2021 seasons gave the White Sox plenty of experience in pushing López well into the land of diminishing returns, and they resisted the urge to fall into the same trap in 2022 (López’s brief back issue may have helped limit the load).

Katz instead floated the idea of López as a possible closer, and that the only time I had the urge to differ. It’s hard to look at the pedestrian strikeout (24.8 percent) and ground-ball rates (39.3) and see somebody who won’t be at the mercy of contact. I wouldn’t count on him limiting the opposition to one homer over 65⅓ innings, because Statcast said he should’ve allowed two or three, and if the ball regains any of his previous life, you’re potentially looking at two or three more beyond simple regression.

In López’s favor, the meh K rate is buoyed by an above-average pop-up rate, which is the safest kind of contact to allow. If he’s a decent bet to generate that kind of fly ball, then sure, give him a shot in the ninth inning if and when Liam Hendriks isn’t around. I’d just want to have a Plan B/C I’m just as enthusiastic about.

Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

Articles: 3793
17 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
GrinnellSteve

At least they recognize they need a starter.

Buehrlesque

I’m glad Katz said it out loud and didn’t try to Hahn-speak it. This team desperately needs another SP or two, both short- and long-term. There aren’t any credible prospect replacements anywhere near on the horizon. The picture becomes even bleaker after ’23, when Giolito and Lynn are FAs. The ’24 staff currently consists of a pick-your-own rhyme:

Cease and Kopech and a full-on trainwreck
Cease and Kopech and a whole lot of blechhh
Cease and Kopech and hit the deck
Cease and Kopech and the equivalent of Chris Beck

Augusto Barojas

Kopech had TJ surgery in Sept 2018, and is now more than 4 years removed. I should hope that 120 innings was not pushing him too hard. Kopech has two more years after 2023, should they save him for the next team that he is on?

This team is set to lose Cueto, who was their 2nd best starter, and Abreu, who had their highest WAR other than Cease, and who was one of their only good hitters against right handed pitching the past 3 years. Not to mention their only position player who did not spend time on the DL the past two years. Better days from Moncada and Grandal are not likely to offset the loss of Abreu, and certainly won’t make them an adequate offense vs RHP. Even with some guys who should have better years, I fail to see how this team is not at least as likely to be worse, than a lot better in 2023. Barring unforeseen brilliant trades by Hahn, at least.

calcetinesblancos

I’m with you on Kopech. I also don’t understand how they are always talking about “doing what’s best for him,” or other similar things. It seems like the best thing for both Kopech and the Sox would be Kopech being a reliable starting pitcher.

Nellie Fox

Kopech should be a one inning stopper, I remember a starting pitcher who could not do it but became a great closer………..Dennis Eckersley

Wayne

It is more about the year over year increase in innings. Kopech was pushing 50 inning increase (73 IP in 2021 to 120 in 2022). But, that means he should be able to get to the 150-170 level next year,

upnorthsox

You mean like the way Justin Verlander went from 6 IP over the previous 2 years to 175 IP this year…..at age 39.

a-t

Justin Verlander is a Nolan Ryan clone, the Terminator as a power pitcher, whose body is used to over a decade and a half of workhorse innings counts. He’s the latest, and probably the last, pitcher to reach 250 IP. In other words: in all respect an exception to the rule.

upnorthsox

Doesn’t matter, he was just the first to come to mind. Their handling of Kopech is the exception, not the rule.

a-t

No, it isn’t unusual at all, not for a young pitcher like Kopech. It just usually happens in the minors, and the pandemic year threw it off. Cease, for instance, had TJS in 2014. He threw 24 IP in ‘15, 44.2 in ‘16, 93.1 in ‘17 (all of those with the Cubs), 124 in ‘18, 141.1 in ‘19, etc.

Hunter Greene, who had TJS in ‘19, didn’t pitch in official games in ‘19 or ‘20, and threw 105 in ‘21, then 132.1 in ‘22. Walker Buehler had his first TJS sooner after being drafted in ‘15, threw all of 5IP in ‘16, then went 98 IP in ‘17, and 153 IP in ‘18. The unusualness in Kopech’s recovery is 1) he sat out the pandemic year, so nothing to be improved upon that year and 2) the Sox decided they wanted to use Kopech out of the bullpen in ‘21 instead of having him get a starter’s load in the minors. He’d probably have hit 130-140 this year were it not for the knee.

Trooper Galactus

Just a reminder that these doofuses said that Zack Burdi could be a starter.

lifelongjd

Would be nice if the Sox could slot in Lopez/Crochet into the 8th/9th inning roles and flip Hendriks and Graveman for a starter (or two, or RF or 2B). The reliever market is barren and the Sox actually have depth they can afford to deal.

soxfan

Cueto seems like the most obvious candidate to sign. Wonder why we don’t hear his name as a target.

There are better pitchers available but they’ll all required creativity, multiple transactions to free up money, and/or a longer term commitment. Cueto would be a simple signee for a reasonable price.

Just start the conversation with Cueto at 2/20 and keep talking until it gets ridiculous.

(I’d also like to see some bullpen money moved to make a run at Verlander or Rodon but those require chess like thinking while
I’m impressed when our front office demonstrates the ability to play checkers.)

Foulkelore

I think our front office is still trying to figure out how to play Candy Land.

a-t

I think re-signing Cueto would be unwise. They caught lightning in a bottle with him. If Katz can work his magic that effectively with a 35 year old journeyman, why not give him some more promising clay to work with?

Last edited 19 days ago by a-t
Augusto Barojas

I agree they would be unlikely to get anything like that from Cueto again. His prior 2 years were nothing like 2022. Unlikely that he will repeat, and undoubtedly would be overpriced now compared to a year ago. They are unlikely to get anybody who performs at the level he did, if they are opting for uber cheap rentals. They got exceedingly lucky with Cueto.

asinwreck

Maybe the White Sox floated Crochet as a rotation piece when they drafted him, but they also said Nick Madrigal might be able to play shortstop and Zack Collins could really catch.

They also said Zack Collins could really hit.

Last edited 19 days ago by asinwreck